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Country Takes on Spotify and iTunes

Country music fans may be forced to reexamine their allegiances to popular digital music services such as iTunes and Spotify after this past couple of weeks.

Taylor Swift recently removed her entire catalogue from Spotify, most of which was exceptional country music. Jason Aldean, who according to the Tennessean broke Spotify records for a country album with the more than 3 million streams ‘Old Boots, New Dirt’ garnered, removed only his most recent work from the service.

Then of course there’s Garth Brooks, still an iTunes holdout, whose new album will only be available on his own site and Ghost Tunes, a service that he in part owns. Before that, there was already the strategy of withholding a record from streaming in order to boost initial sales utilized by top sellers like the Black Keys. Older music from these artists remains available on Spotify, and the newer records may eventually join when sales decrease enough.

Alternatives to iTunes and Spotify work best for the types of names that are bound to bring fans wherever they may go. Swift, whose album ‘1989’ became the first album of 2014 to go platinum, falls under that category. Brooks owns the rights to his song library, which means he’ll make plenty more money by selling it through his own site and cutting out the middle man run by Tim Cook.

But Brooks isn’t all about the money for himself. Ghost Tunes allows all artists to sell their work a little more creatively because they can choose how to sell their album. Prices vary much more on the site, as does the way albums are sold. Some are sold single by single like on iTunes, other material is only available with purchases of the entire album, something Brooks points out will benefit artists and songwriters alike. While the numbers in terms of how much the artist takes home from each sale aren’t available, it’s hard to imagine Brooks would make it worse than iTunes, which by some measures offers artists as little as 9 cents per 99 cent download.

While Spotify claims it benefits artists by eliminating the need for piracy, they may only be right to a certain extent. If Spotify’s year-old numbers are to be believed, an artist receives about $0.00006 and $0.000084 per stream. Even if an artist is paid at the upper end of the spectrum, it would mean they’d need about 1071 streams to make the 9 cents they’re pulling in from iTunes. Even assuming people stream songs up to 10 times on average, it would mean that Spotify would net an artist gains only if fewer than 1 percent of potential listeners bought the track for use on portable devices.

The lesson here? If you’re interested in supporting music, Spotify probably isn’t the way to go. And if you’re looking to buy an album, using the artist’s site is probably the best way to go, followed by an artist-friendly retailer like CDBaby or Ghost Tunes. iTunes or Amazon is best only if you’re looking to buy a hit single and not the rest of the album. As Brooks points out, that’s not the best way to go for those who make the music, but it sure beats not buying anything if the rest of the album is not of interest. The smaller the band, the more you should care how you get the music. They might actually be forced to call it quits if they’re only pulling in 9 cents per track.



I host Country Pocket on WUSB Stony Brook 90.1 FM. Content from the show will appear on

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